Picks and Pans Review: Jubilation: Great Gospel Performances
Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings—spreading the news," singer Mahalia Jackson wrote in her autobiography. Jackson, whose grandparents worked in slavery on a Louisiana rice plantation, was born in New Orleans in 1911 in a shack sandwiched between railroad tracks (the trains rattled the windows) and the Mississippi River. She was never shy about crediting God for her great gospel voice. Whether a gift from on high or not, her singing was inspired, and in this 36-track second volume of her Columbia recordings (Columbia Legacy), covering 1954 to 1969, she belts with bluesy ferocity ("Walk in Jerusalem") and moans long and low on "I Want My Crown."
Jackson, who died in 1972, may have made her best recordings for the tiny Apollo label in Harlem from 1946 to 1953, before Columbia began popularizing her, but she spreads plenty of good tidings here.
The power of gospel to stir, celebrate, counsel and console shines through the three CDs of Jubilation (Rhino). Covering the five decades between 1929 and 1980, the set devotes two volumes to classics of black gospel and one to white country spirituals. The emphatic, harmony-saturated "jubilee" singing style favored by many male quartets consistently enlivens the black gospel discs. Standouts include rough-cut gems like the Heavenly Gospel Singers' "Heavenly Gospel Train," Julius Cheeks's towering lead on the Sensational Nightingales' "Burying Ground" and Paul Owens's powerhouse vocals on the Swan Silvertones' rousing "My Rock." (For more of this intricate vocalizing, a melodious forerunner of rap, check out Travelin' Shoes, the new RCA reissue of the Golden Gate Quartet's classic 1930s recordings.)
Volume three offers more restrained but no less moving hymns and songs by such giants of country music as the Carter Family and the Louvin Brothers, as well as contributions from Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells and others. Marking the CD debut of most of these titles, this collection is comprehensive, generously annotated and loaded with inspired performances.